Jong-Min photo

Jong-Min

Jong-Min is 36 years old and an undocumented immigrant. His parents brought him at the age of one to the U.S. from South Korea to attend college in Tennessee. When his parents’ student visas expired, Jong-Min and his parents become undocumented.

The family soon moved to New York for better job opportunities. Jong-Min’s parents opened a grocery store, which he has helped his parents run for the last 28 years.

Growing up, Jong-Min was a talented student and was accepted to a competitive high school. At the time, he wanted to become a pediatrician, and applied to participate in a hospital residency program. During the application process, the hospital called and asked for his green card. Jong-Min remembers going to his parents store, and asking them where his green card was. His mother responded that it was at the house. After searching around their house without any success, Jong-Min called his mother back saying he wasn’t able to find it, only to hear his mother tell him that what he was looking for didn’t exist; Jong-Min was undocumented.

Jong-Min

“She said, ‘You don’t have one. You can’t do that residency program. You can’t tell anyone about this either,’” he says. After finding out he was undocumented, Jong-Min felt defeated, and struggled to graduate high school.

However, Jong-Min did graduate, and attended college in Tennessee, in a pre-DREAM Act United States. “[I] always got questions from friends and families, like ‘Who are you going to vote for in the election, Bush or Gore?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t vote,’” he says. “They would ask me, ‘How come you don’t drive? How come you don’t back to South Korea for vacation? How come you don’t do this internship?”

When he graduated from college with honors, Jong-Min thought about what he could do next as an undocumented immigrant. With his status, he had few options, and returned to New York to help his parents with the grocery store.

“It’s been hard, because you graduate college and you want to become a doctor, or whatever you want to be, and I couldn’t because I didn’t have status,” says Jong-Min.

When he graduated from college with honors, Jong-Min thought about what he could do next as an undocumented immigrant. With his status, he had few options, and returned to New York to help his parents with the grocery store.

For years, Jong-Min has been hopeful for immigration reform that would allow him to receive work authorization. “It was hard because we waited for so many years and we kept on waiting. We said we’d let the politicians handle it and I guess we trusted them because we had no options,” he explains.

In 2012, when President Obama announced DACA, Jong-Min was 32 years old, missing the cut for qualification by just one year. Now, Jong-Min is studying for the LSAT and has plans to go to law school.

“There’s a depression aspect of this… [we] can’t drive, can’t vote, can’t study abroad. Society is against you.”

Expanded DACA would enable Jong-Min to qualify for financial aid during law school and ensure that he can get a job legally in the U.S. after graduate school.

Jong-Min also says that being undocumented for so long has taken a psychological toll on him and his friends. “There’s a depression aspect of this….[we] can’t drive, can’t vote, can’t study abroad. Society is against you. I think that hopefully that talking about the issue of suicide prevention, depression issues, understanding each other brings hope,” says Jong-Min. “You have to support one another.”

“Sometimes I think we are forgotten about because we’re too old,” he says of his fellow expanded DACA-eligible peers. “It’s just so frustrating.”